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Recently I “challenged” viewers to watch a video that was less than four minutes long featuring the dancer known as L’il Buck. This week I challenge you to view this video. On November 29, 1962 a benefit concert took place called The American Pageant of the Arts. In attendance was President and Mrs. Kennedy, Marion Anderson, Robert Frost, Van Cliburn, and many other stars of stage and screen. Leonard Bernstein was Master of Ceremonies. In this particular concert excerpt he introduces to America a 7-year old cellist named Yo-Yo Ma and his sister Yeou-Cheng Ma.

The benefit performance was to raise funds toward the creation of a National Cultural Center.

bhp0072_02_enlarge

Today the National Cultural Center is known as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Sources & Additional Reading

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pablo_Casals

https://leonardbernstein.com/

Hope for America/Government Support for the Arts – https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/hope-for-america/government-support-for-the-arts.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_F._Kennedy_Center_for_the_Performing_Arts

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dscn1011

a wall I saw today

Let America Be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home–
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay–
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain–
All, all the stretch of these great green states–
And make America again!

by Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

 

Read more Langston Hughes and find other poems for inspiration, reflection and perhaps even motivation at https://www.poets.org/

 

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foreword to the interludes

On February 21, 2014, an article appeared in the New York Times reporting that the city intended to remove over 400 children from 2 homeless shelters.  The article goes on to highlight how these 400 are part of “a swelling population of 22,000 homeless children.” Such numbers have not been reported in New York since the Great Depression.  Nearly two decades before the Great Depression, on January 1, 1911,  Joseph Anthony Horne was born and then orphaned in that city.  He could easily have become homeless.

Young Horne

A Young Joseph Anthony?

Even then it was quite clear that there was a widening divide in the city, and across the nation, between haves and have-nots.  The late 1800s into the early 1900s was the Gilded Age  for the country, with a rapidly expanding economy resulting in some growing extremely wealthy (e.g. Carnegie, Mellon, Morgan, Vanderbilt, etc) while others sank into poverty.  Especially affected during this era were children like Joseph, i.e. those who were orphaned or abandoned.  Even for children remaining with their families, so many families had so few resources that children had to work alongside parents for survival.

Spinning Boy by Lewis Hine

Spinning Boy by Lewis Hine

Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, New York was a major port of entry for people of many backgrounds and skills seeking a new life for themselves and their children.  Some within the U.S. were eager to welcome these immigrants to work in growing cities and homestead “empty” lands out west.  When Joseph was born, the population of the U.S. was estimated at nearly 94 million.  In 1818, less than 100 years before his birth, the population had been only 9 million.  That staggering increase in population in such a short time was primarily due to immigration from England, Ireland and Germany (including territories then considered part of the German Empire like Poland).

Children Sleeping in Mulberry Street (1890) by Jacob Riis

Children Sleeping in Mulberry Street (1890) by Jacob Riis

For those immigrants who arrived with few funds, they took whatever jobs they could find.  New York photographer and journalist Jacob Riis chronicled the life led by some of these people in the late 1800s in his book How the Other Half Lives. So, even as on one side of the city people were enjoying the wealth and prosperity of “the age of innocence,” on the other side of the city, people were experiencing a very different life.  It is also around this time, in 1883,  American poet Emma Lazarus wrote The New Colossus, a poem that would be engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted inside the lower level of the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, including those famous lines:  “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …”

In the Home of an Itlaian Rag Picker, Jersey Street by Jacob Riis

In the Home of an Italian Rag Picker, Jersey Street by Jacob Riis

During this time, there were few labor laws in place to prevent mistreatment and abuses of all sorts.  In fact, in 1911,  one of the worst industrial disasters in U.S. history took place in New York City at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.  A fire led to the deaths of 146 men and women who were killed by the fire, smoke inhalation or by jumping to their deaths.  The owners had locked the doors and any exits, a common practice in those times.  It was one of those tragic events that would help to usher in new workplace safety standards.  And eventually through the efforts of photographers like Lewis Hine child labor laws would be created as well.

Jo Bodeon, back-roper in mule room at Chace Cotton Mill, Burlington, VT, by Lewis Hine

Jo Bodeon, back-roper in mule room at Chace Cotton Mill, Burlington, VT, by Lewis Hine

Midnight at the Glassworks by Lewis Hine

Midnight at the Glassworks by Lewis Hine

As an investigative reporter for the National Child Labor Committe, Lewis Hine documented the working and living conditions of children across the U.S. between 1908 and 1924.  Many images can be found on the Library of Congress website.  Leading up to World War I (1914-1918), as manual labor work increased, there was no more cheap and readily available labor than that of a child.

Little Lottie A Regular Oyster Shucker, Bayou, LA, 1911, by Lewis Hine

Little Lottie A Regular Oyster Shucker, Bayou, LA, 1911, by Lewis Hine

Hughestown Borough PA Coal Company Breaker Boys by Lewis Hine

Hughestown Borough PA Coal Company Breaker Boys by Lewis Hine

Reformers, like those who started the National Child Labor Committee, and many other people were aware that the practice of putting children to work had to end, not only for their immediate safety but to facilitate giving them an opportunity for  schooling and increasing any chances they had at breaking out of a cycle of poverty.  One such reformer was philanthropist Charles Loring Brace.  In 1853, he formed the Children’s Aid Society in New York City.  At the time, abandoned and homeless children lived on the streets or were placed in institutions where they could stay until a certain age (e.g. 14) before being expected to leave.  Brace and others felt that it would be better to collect these children, and even to accept children from poor families who could not take care of them, and to send those children to live with families outside of the city, in farming communities.  These “foster families” could even adopt the children.  As for how these children, including an orphaned baby Joseph, would travel to one of these families? By train.

Celebration of completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad at what is now Golden Spike National Historic Site, Promontory Summit, Utah. Photo by A. J. Russell, 1869

Celebration of completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad at what is now Golden Spike National Historic Site, Promontory Summit, Utah. Photo by A. J. Russell, 1869

With the support of wealthy families like the Astors and other philanthropists, from 1854 to 1929, the Children’s Aid Society and the New York Foundling Hospital, would send nearly 250,000 children of all ages by “orphan trains” to cities and towns across the country, primarily to the American Midwest.  The children ranged in age from babies like Joseph to teenagers.  Notices would be sent out to communities before the children departed.  Agents would be sent along with the children as chaperones.  Stories have been collected over the years.  It is clear that sometimes children were fostered as “helping hands,” but it is also clear that children were taken in to be cared for and loved as part of a family.  Such is likely the case with Joseph.

Orphan Train, Kansas State Historical Society

Orphan Train, Kansas State Historical Society

Joseph and a baby girl named Pearl were taken in by farmer  Anton J. Wisnieski and his wife, Anna.  The German-speaking couple of German and Polish ancestry would raise the two children in Webster Township, Dodge County, Nebraska.  So instead of growing up on the streets of New York City, young Joseph grew up on the Great Plains where he fished for buffalo carp in the Platte River and had many other adventures into the 1920s.  And then something happened. He felt a calling to travel back east and even cross the Atlantic into worlds very different from the farmlands of Nebraska.  In his travels, he would deepen his knowledge of “dead languages,” literature, music and religion and somehow pick up his first camera … just in time to return to the States and join the ranks of one of the most legendary groups of documentary photographers in U.S. history.

More about those adventures and that walk through history in March.

A Few Recommended Links …

The Gilded Age

Lost Children: Riders on the Orphan Train

PBS American Experience:  The Orphan Train

A History of the Orphan Trains

Washington Post article by Andrea Warren

Early Child Labor in U.S. with Lewis Hine Photography

NYTimes Slide Show of Jacob A. Riis Photography

Orphan Train: A Novel

National Orphan Train Complex

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I received an unexpected gift today.  A package from a family member who has been dealing with great tragedy.  Yet she’d taken the time to send me something out of the blue.  On the back of the package she had written that she had found the enclosed item in her father’s effects and thought that I might like it.  I opened the package to discover a magazine celebrating African American history.  The words quoted on the cover struck me, and made me want to share (and pair) with an image I took of a dusty toy.  Old words but still quite fitting in these times.  Have a good day, folks.

“We may have all come in different ships but we’re in the same boat now.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

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